Entertainment Tonight Interview - February 1998


Leo on Safari

He´s taking a year off to study wild animals

By Garth Pearce

He is the world´s sexiest star, an idol to millions - but all Leonardo DiCaprio wants to do is watch ANIMALS. Hollywood´s No. 1 heart-throb is quitting the jungle of Tinseltown to go on Safari in Africa and South America. The 23- year-old star of Titanic - the world´s most successful movie - says he is exhausted after making 11 films in just five years. He reveals: "I´m taking a year off. I want to slow down, because I have been working so hard. There are so many things that I have not had the chance to do, just because of work. Looking at lions, elephants and zebras in the wild is one of them."

Leonardo says he he is bewildered by his rise to stardom and his sex-symbol status. He continues: "The strangest thing about Hollywood for me now is seeing the things I had wished and hoped for becoming a reality. It is a bizarre feeling, because I even don´t believe it. It is the same with all the stories about my alleged sex appeal. I just don´t see it. I am living through the experience and only later I will wake up and know what it feels like."

Leonardo is footloose again after the end of his relationship with model Kristen Zang - he has been seen out with another model, Amber Valetta - but now he just wants to relax and enjoy himself. He says: "I have always wanted to travel preferably to see animals which might be on the verge of extinction. If I don´t start soon, then I fear I never will. My problem is that I have not had a chance to live life. I started on films at 16 and I have gone from one to another. I have had to put aside all my other interests."

"Animal have always been a big passion for me and once I wanted to be a travel agent so I could get out in the world. I´ve had pet dogs, frogs, even a lizard. But I´ve not had a chance to build up a proper interest or knowledge. I have been living through films for so long, it is great not to have a part to work on for once. I need to put back some energy and thoughts and experiences in my life. There are a lot of great advantages with this job, but some things are not so good. Anonymity is to be cherished. I enjoy going where I´m not recognized. If I have to go to the wilds of Africa to do that, so be it. I also want to learn to paint and buy art. There´s so much to do, to make up for lost time."

Leonardo´s status as the world´s hottest sex symbol came after the global success of $1 billion-grossing Titanic and before that, Romeo and Juliet. He arrives in London this week for Thursday´s premiere of his new film The Man in the Iron Mask at the Odeon, Leicester Square. And there will be co-stars Gérard Depardieu, Jeremy Irons and John Malkovich, who play the aging musketers in the film, released on Friday. Leonardo - snubbed by Holly wood in the Oscar nominations for Best Actor at the Academy Awards on March 23 - sparkles as the tyrannical boy king Louis XIV who makes a prisoner of his twin brother - also played by Leo.

Leonardo went straight from filming Titanic to work on The Man in the Iron Mask in France. He says: "I was emotionally drained at the end of it all. I couldn´t resist the film, with such a great cast, and I have no regrets but it was an exhausting process."

The stresses on the Titanic film-set took their toll on Leonardo too. He recalls: "There were many times when I was in tears. It was the toughest shoot, lasting for six or seven months, and Kate Winslet and I were both driven very hard in a lot of the difficult water senes. There was no point in complaining. We were filming in a giant tank in Mexico and the film was costing a fortune. So all the complaining in the world was done in privacy, with just the two of us.We did not have to vent it on anyone else. Sometimes Kate was in tears, other times I was, and occasionally we both were. It was that kind of a job. But Kate is awesome. She is beautiful, tremendously talented and is really down to earth. I don´t think England realizes what a treasure she is."

For Leonardo there will be no wild times in London, apart from attending the premiere party. He says: "I want to check out some more museums and art galleries. Wherever I go now, I like to look at history and art. I feel there is a whole world that I don´t know enough about. I left school at 16, began working on a TV series, Growing Pains, and I was in a movie with Robert De Niro called This Boy´s Life a couple of years later. There has been no time to catch my breath. I didn´t even have time to go to drama school."

When Leonardo returns to films, he is determined that it will not be in another romantic role. He says: "I died in Romeo, and as Jack Dawson in Titanic. Perhaps they are trying to tell me something. I feel as if I have done those kinds of leads for now. I am not looking to play the super-hero either. I did Titanic only after seeing the script and meeting director James Cameron and Kate. The Man in the Iron Mask was agreed on because I admire all the other guys in the film so much. But I want and I need to call a halt to it now."

Although Leonardo´s parents split when he was a baby, he still consults his dad George about his roles. His manager-mother Irmelin, 45 (no - with all respect - she´s ten years older than this!) and his German grandmother Helena will be by his side for the London premiere. Leonardo says: "After that, I will be looking to the next step in life. At this moment, I feel I would sooner see a herd of wild beasts than face another film crew."